TRADE PACT SIEGE: INTERVIEW: Activist-academic explains student movement

Academia Sinica research fellow Huang Kuo-chang said in an interview with Tzou Jiing-wen, a staff reporter with the ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister paper of the ‘Taipei Times’), that the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by student-led protesters showed that the younger generation in Taiwan is cognizant of the regression of the nation’s democracy and the harsh employment environment they face, adding that a realization of these problems is what galvanized many younger people to make an effort to step forward for the future of Taiwan

By Tzou Jiing-wen  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Mar 28, 2014 - Page 3

Liberty Times (LT): Why did the occupation of the Legislative Yuan happen? How did it happen?

Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌): People felt a mixture of emotions, including shock, anger and confusion, when the media reported that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) unilaterally announced on Monday [March 17] that the cross-strait service trade agreement had cleared the committee. We then started to think: “What are we going to do now?”

We and other civil groups held a press conference in front of the Legislative Yuan on Monday evening and criticized Chang’s actions as illegal. We were joined by some students, who left later with [National Taiwan University political science graduate student] Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) for a meeting of their own.

We were however in agreement that something had to be done, because Taiwan’s democracy was forced onto a ledge with no way out except a long drop.

On Tuesday [March 18], we saw the majority of news media reports that considered — with their titles and headline news — the “completion of the cross-strait service trade agreement review” as a fait accompli. The media’s response had gone hand-in-hand with the [President] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s manipulated atmosphere claiming the pact was a done deal and no amount of protests would work to stop it.

However, Monday’s legislative committee meeting, from a point of view of constitutional and democratic law, was one that contravened the Constitution.

The importance of the pact could not be highlighted enough without a radical break in the situation as it stood then, and without sufficient acknowledgment, the mistake [of signing the pact] could not be rectified.

We met at an office near the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday afternoon to sketch out a rough plan and, as we were afraid of our plans being leaked, we only informed those who were close to us.

Quite by coincidence, an event titled “Democratic Unity Night” was being held that evening, hosted by Dennis Wei (魏揚), the convener of the Black Island Youth Alliance (黑色島國青年陣線), so we knew some of the students we knew would be attending that event.

We held some face-to-face meetings with other student groups and they agreed they would participate in the event.

We agreed to meet at certain point that night.

After Wei’s announcement, the students scaled the walls [of the Legislative Yuan] at Jinan Road and Qingdao East Road at about 9pm.

Although it may have happened in a short moment, in between, quite a lot of preparation was made.

LT: What are the goals the movement hopes to achieve?

Huang: The consensus among all the groups that have participated in the movement is that we are against the passage of the controversial and potentially far-reaching cross-strait service trade agreement under a method that so completely tramples the core democratic values of Taiwan.

We hope to let everyone clearly recognize that the decision to consider the pact as having been reviewed — a process of just 30 seconds — is a great blow against Taiwan’s democracy.

This message must be forcefully delivered.

The second goal of the movement is to get the the government to rectify the mistake, and this message must be every bit as strong as the first.

We feel we could most strongly send out this message at the Legislative Yuan. We cannot understand what the lawmakers we have elected are doing, and why they would allow such a ludicrous event to happen.

The voters of this nation depend on the legislators they have elected — in accordance with the system of representation — into the Legislative Yuan, and yet it is clear these lawmakers have not been fulfilling their duties.

We sustain these legislators with our hard-earned tax money, but they have completely robbed us of any possibility for civil participation and oversight of the issue through a completely nondemocratic procedure.

More importantly, we have seen the Ma administration repeatedly place itself on the opposite side of civic will. It has even attempted to cement his rule through stringent regulation of administrative power and efforts to infiltrate legislative power.

Despite the president’s low popularity, the Ma administration does not fear the populace and has forged ahead with its plans, leading to an overwhelming atmosphere of discouragement in society, including those who have demonstrated against Ma.

It is in such an atmosphere that we have chosen to make a stand against an administration bent on fomenting political anarchy and cheapening the value of our Constitution.

LT: Can you give a definition of this student-led movement?

Huang: The essence of this movement is that this generation of Taiwanese are now aware that they are being backed into a corner of a wall.

The analogy of the wall could be taken two ways — the first being the chasm over which Taiwanese democracy dangles. If the process used to pass the cross-strait service trade agreement could be called democratic, then can all accords be done in such a manner? This is a scary thought.

The second way the analogy of the wall could be interpreted is as the less-than-friendly employment environment in Taiwan.

Under the Ma administration, Taiwan’s economy has become heavily reliant on China, causing the massive outsourcing of industry from Taiwan and the hollowing of Taiwanese industrial sector.

The low pay people face upon graduation is even worse than the standards of a decade ago.

These young people are being taught in schools that with a good education they will have a brighter future, but the reality of the situation is that even if one studies hard, there is no future in such an employment environment.

The movement is the students’ strongest critique against this government.

We have seen that there are still young people in all corners of Taiwan who are willing put effort into this thing [the student movement], whether they have traveled here to participate in person, or have sent material aid through whatever channels or even left a message on the Internet for spiritual support. We are also aware that Taiwanese abroad have also been moved by the students’ actions.

Some Hong Kong residents have also come to join us at the event, and they have said that the courage of Taiwan’s young people is extremely helpful to the morale of the younger generation in Hong Kong, adding that they hope Hong Kong has the same vibrancy.

This proves that as long as we are willing to work, willing to fight, Taiwan still has hope. These young people are — with their actions — lifting the society out of the oppression of defeatism.

Through this action, we are also sending out a strong message — that Taiwanese young people are ready to defend Taiwan’s democratic freedoms and determine their own future.

Through this event, we are showing China that Taiwan is not a place where they can get away with making incessant demands.

Translated by staff writer Jake Chung